Three ways to change how your business uses social media in 2017

If you’ve noticed that your social media posts recently seem to be reaching fewer followers, you aren’t alone. It’s reported that large brands who post via Facebook reach as little as two per cent of their audience, meaning just one in every 50 of their own followers.

No, this isn’t part of some grand conspiracy. More content than ever is being shared — photos, gifs, videos and more — and the space in our news feeds is at a premium. Content from friends and family members gets preference. Company updates, more often than not, don’t make the cut.

Nor is Facebook alone in elbowing companies to the social margins. The days of being able to engage with users for free on social media through so-called “organic posts” are, in no uncertain terms, numbered. But this doesn’t mean businesses should give up on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms. In fact, exactly the opposite is true.

Social media is more pervasive than ever and ready for a unique metamorphosis in 2017: reborn as a hyper-focused business tool, more targeted, simpler to use and possibly more effective than before. Here’s how to stay ahead of the curve:

Put your money where your post is

In a new report, industry analyst Gartner is unusually blunt. “Sustained success in social marketing now requires paid advertising.” Pay-to-play is increasingly the foundation of effective social strategies, with more than 80% of companies planning to deploy a social ad campaign in the next year.

All the major networks now have their own “native ads,” which are promoted posts and updates designed to look just like the real things (apart from tiny disclaimers). The good news is that once you get over the initial sticker shock of ponying up for Tweets and posts, paid social media actually presents some discrete advantages for businesses.

Instead of blasting out updates, brands can target both followers and non-followers with a high degree of accuracy. The incredibly rich “social graph” of data captured by networks enables zeroing in not just on specific demographic groups but on “lookalike audiences,” similar to those of competitors’.

Most important, the return on this social investment can finally be tracked and quantified. Paid social media analytics gives a real-time window into results, with instant feedback on the cost per view, click and other parameters. While the work of creating and bidding on these ads has put off some users in the past, a host of online platforms now simplifies the process of deploying paid campaigns.

Tap the social media army on your payroll

Paid ads offer a surefire way to reach a desired audience on social media … at a price. But there’s another critical — and generally overlooked — way to get the message out that entails no extra cost: your own employees.

Employee advocacy, inviting coworkers to share brand messages on their own social media accounts, has a host of benefits. You expand your reach, often exponentially in the case of large companies. Plus, because messages are being shared from personal accounts (rather than the company one), they generally reach a higher percentage of followers. Plus, content shared by employees reportedly gets eight times more engagement than content shared by brand channels.

But there’s a right way and a wrong way to encourage employee sharing. It should never be obligatory, for starters. Employees have to actually want to share company news. And the process of sharing has to be dead simple. Our office developed a one-click option where companies can send pre-approved updates via mobile app to employees, who then just tap to send.

Inspire customers to create

For companies, user-generated content is a powerful way to build ties with customers, while also leaning on them for crowd-sourced inspiration and creativity. Plus, encouraging your own customers to create and share branded content represents a sort of end-run around algorithms that limit the reach of posts from corporate accounts.

But how do you incentivize users to generate all this clickable content? An old-fashioned contest never hurts. Close to home, for example, we recently challenged our followers to post photos from unique office settings as part of our #IWorkFromHere campaign. More than 1,400 people shared entries — from locales as exotic as the Andes Mountains and the cockpit of a helicopter — for a chance to win round-trip flights anywhere in the world. The result: 2.2 million people a day saw these posts, which translated to more than 2,000 new mobile users.

Online tools now make it easy to plan and deploy contests to create user-generated content, though some common sense is always advisable. (Among many cautionary tales is #McDstories, a 2012 effort from the fast-food giant that saw users flood the Twitterverse with … well … not exactly the kind of stories the company had hoped for.)

The reachpocalypse is, in no uncertain terms, upon us. But for businesses, the decline of organic social media reach needn’t be a doomsday scenario — quite the contrary. Companies able to adapt may well discover a new level of precision, targeting and results for their social media efforts in the year ahead.

Ryan Holmes, CEO of HootSuite, is an angel investor and advisor, and mentors startups and entrepreneurs.;

Article Written by Ryan Holmes of Financial Post